Last night I had the opportunity to witness my favorite artist, J. Cole, put on one of the most entertaining and heartfelt performances that I’ve ever seen or experienced. Because he is my favorite artist, I am a bit biased, so I’ll try to keep things as objective as possible. I just can’t make any promises. For those that don’t know, J. Cole has been headlining the Forest Hills Drive Tour across the nation to support his latest album of the same name. The tour was composed of 3 Acts:
Last night’s show was part of Act 3, which is drawing to a close and will rightfully be wrapping up August 29th in Cole’s hometown of Fayetteville, NC.
The show began around 6:30pm with Cole’s crew of Dreamville artists: Cozz, Omen and Bas. I was still tailgating in the parking lot when these guys started to perform so I did miss their set. However, I was able to get to the show in time to catch the next act: YG!
Bompton’s own came out while the crowd was still filing in but held down a respectable mini set that was about 8-10 songs deep. The majority of his songs all stemmed from his 2014 Grammy snubbed album, My Krazy Life. However, he did sprinkle in a few throwbacks/crowd pleasers such as “Toot It & Boot It”. I was pleasantly surprised when YG performed his newest single from his upcoming sophomore album, “Twist My Fingaz”. It’s got a sound that instantly makes you think of Snoop Dogg or Dr. Dre in the early 90’s, gold 88 spoke Dayton rims and low-riders cruising the block in the California sunshine. Seriously, YG couldn’t be more west coast if he tried.
Next up was Jeremih. I have some Jeremih songs here and there on my iPod, but the majority of the songs I have feature him on the hooks. Jeremih got us all together in his Delorean and cranked it to 87 because he took us all the way back to 2009 with his smash hit “Birthday Sex”. This wasn’t the only trick Jeremih had up his sleeves though. Natalie La Rose made a surprise guest appearance and they performed their joint hit “Somebody” that’s taking over pop radio. And the crown jewel of his set for me was his DJ Mustard produced hit, “Don’t Tell ‘Em” which he performed last, with a little help from YG who came back to the stage to do his verse.
After Jeremih’s set ended, an intermission began. The stage hands got to work putting up a new set for the next performer, Big Sean. We used this time to hit the restrooms, get a quick bite to eat, and of course refill the beverages which seemed to be disappearing at an alarming rate. Weird.
After all of that and a little bit of milling around, the fans were shown the new set which featured the front of a liquor store, aptly named “Paradise Liquor”. At that moment, the horns began on the Mike Will produced banger, “Paradise”. Big Sean immediately ripped into his first verse and the spotlights started going crazy. The energy level skyrocketed. He performed his second verse on the song as well and I have to say, it’s straight FIRE.
Sean went through a multitude of songs from various projects. Some were from Dark Sky Paradise, some were from Finally Famous: The Album, some were from GOOD Music’s Cruel Summer and some were from Hall of Fame. Honestly, Big Sean put down one hell of a performance. The crowed was into it and you could see him feeding off of the energy. Not every song played was necessarily a banger or wildly popular radio hit though. Sean took a moment to get personal with the fans when he played “One Man Can Change the World” during which the fans held up lighters/cell phones to illuminate the sky. It was a pretty cool moment. To be quite honest, I wasn’t expecting somebody as big as Big Sean to be an opener. He’s probably not too far off from having tours of his own at venues like these, so adding him to the lineup was absolutely a gift to the fans. I wasn’t able to get great photos of Sean Don, but I did nab some off of his IG account:
And of course the obligatory video of “IDFWU”.
After another set change, the time had come for Carolina’s finest. The intro on FHD started playing and J. Cole came out to an uproar of applause. From that point on, Cole went song by song through his entire album. THE WHOLE ALBUM (except “Note to Self”). Things went wayyyy up went he played “A Tale of Two Citiez”.
Another moment that really got the crowd’s attention was during “Fire Squad” where Cole rearranged a few of the lyrics. In the song, his line is:
“This year I’ll prolly go to the awards dappered down
Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile”
Vs. what he actually said:
“Watch Iggy lose a Grammy as a n*gga crack a smile”
See if you can catch it:
After this, Cole switched things up and detoured from FHD to some throwbacks which got a huge response from the crowd and sparked a sing-a-long to “Lights Please” and the hook of “Nobody’s Perfect”. After those songs it was back to business, and he continued to perform the remainder of the album. It wasn’t just a show for Cole though. He didn’t just go from one song to the next to the next and say thanks for coming out at the end. He took the time to share personal stories with the fans between songs that really gave you a glimpse of who he is as a person, which in turn makes you appreciate his music that much more. I think one of the songs I appreciate the most is “Love Yourz”, which truly has a special meaning for anyone going through hard times. It’s inspiring and makes you realize how blessed you are to have the people currently in your life, in your life. Cole ended his set with that song and since it was dark outside, it was to the illumination of cellphones and lighters once again.
Cole said his goodbyes and proceeded to exit the stage. He might have fooled me if this was the first time I had seen him perform. Jermaine is a sucker for an encore performance, especially when 20,000 people are all chanting his name. He came back out and played 5 more songs for us, including another appearance from Jeremih when they did their song “Planes”. Cole ended the night with “Crooked Smile” and “Power Trip”, both of which are classics in my book.
Thinking back on it all, I truly think this may have been the best performance I’ve seen from him. His ability to go back and forth with the fans has gotten better which each tour and there’s no down time or awkward pauses during the show – it’s completely fluid. You’re standing on your feet with your hands raised above your head singing and rapping along to all the songs and before you know it, an hour and a half has gone by – in the blink of an eye. I think that speaks volumes about his stagemanship and the way that he has mastered his craft. Those abilities combined with the way that he addresses the fans through his stories between songs really makes you feel connected with him and gives you a feeling of being comfortable with him – like he’s a friend of yours that you haven’t seen in a while and you’re just happy to see each other and start catching up – it’s all good vibes and positive energy with Cole.
On a more personal note, it still blows my mind to think back on the journey that he’s made with his career. 3-4 years ago I can still remember going to see him perform for the first time at the Fillmore in Charlotte – a venue that sells out at 2,000 people. His first studio album dropped 2 weeks prior to the show, so he was playing music from that as well as his Friday Night Lights mixtape. There were even a few gems from the Warm Up tossed in the show. Fast forward a few years and he’s performing material from his sophomore album in venues like UNCC’s Halton Arena that holds somewhere around 7,000 people for concerts. One year later brings us to last night’s show, and now Cole is performing at a venue that holds 20,000 people. I heard two weeks ago that Cole even sold out Madison Square Garden – 30,000 fans. It’s pretty incredible to sit back and reflect on it all: the music, the growth, the maturity and the message. He truly is one of a kind.
On the off chance that there are any haters out there still reading this who might say Cole is boring, his music will put you to sleep, etc: go to a show. I guarantee your opinion will change.
Lastly, for those curious, I do have the entire Forest Hills Drive Tour Setlist:
2. Just Wanna Party
3. Do It To Ya
4. Bicken Back Bein Bool
5. B*tches Ain’t Shit
6. Twist My Fingaz
7. My N*gga
8. Who Do You Love?
1. Down On Me
2. Imma Star
3. “Somebody” w/ Natalie La Rose
4. Hook from MMG/Wale’s “That Way”
5. Hook from MMG’s “Body Like a Benz”
6. Hook from DJ Khaled’s “Hold You Down”
7. Birthday Sex
8. Don’t Tell Em w/ YG
2. All Your Fault
3. Verse from Good Music’s “Clique”
4. Ass (Dance)
5. Play No Games
6. My Last
8. I Know
9. Verse from Good Music’s “Mercy”
10. Verse from Good Music’s “Don’t Like”
11. One Man Can Change the World
13. Stay Down
14. Marvin & Chardonnay
15. Verse from Drake’s “All Me”
1. FHD Intro
2. January 28th
3. Wet Dreamz
4. 03 Adolescence
5. Tale of 2 Citiez
6. Fire Squad
7. St. Tropez
8. Lights Please
9. In the Morning
10. Nobody’s Perfect
12. No Role Modelz
15. Love Yourz
16. Can’t Get Enough
17. Planes w/ Jeremih
19. Crooked Smile
20. Power Trip